Tag Archives: Benjamin Rush

I am only a machine.

.. it is true that this [skill] had not always been observed as the principle of appointment, but it was thought best to follow the best examples … it is indeed far the most painful part of my duty, under which nothing could support me but the consideration that I am but a machine erected by the constitution for the performance of certain acts according to laws of action laid down for me, one of which is that I must anatomise the living man as the Surgeon does his dead subject, view him also as a machine & employ him for what he is fit for, unblinded by the mist of friendship.
To Benjamin Rush, June 13, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
When can a leader appoint a friend to a job?
Jefferson wrote to one old friend explaining his thinking in appointing another friend as Director of the Mint. The appointee was noted mathematician Robert Patterson. (Patterson was one of the scholars. who tutored Meriwether Lewis prior to his epic journey west. So was Dr. Rush. Both did so at Jefferson’s request.)

Jefferson cited the appointments of two men, Isaac Newton in England and David Rittenhouse in America, as examples of skilled mathematicians appointed to positions that demanded such skills. Both men were well-received by their countrymen. Patterson would be similarly approved.

Jefferson hated the personnel aspect of his job and sought cover by comparing himself to a medical examiner. As that one was charged with dissecting dead bodies, Jefferson was required to dissect live ones, examining what he found within, looking for fitness for office. The Constitution turned him into nothing more than “a machine.” If he found a man fit, as he did Patterson, his friendship with the man was no longer a factor.

“He was fantastic … [and] commanded the surveyor’s immediate attention.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson will cause your audience members to set their cell phones aside.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Finally, some peace and quiet!

I write to you from a place 90 miles from Monticello, near the New London of this State, which I visit three or four times a year, and stay from a fortnight to a month at a time. I have fixed myself comfortably, keep some books here, bring others occasionally, am in the solitude of a hermit, and quite at leisure to attend my absent friends.
To Dr. Benjamin Rush, August 17, 1811
Selected Writings of TJ, by Koch & Peden, Pages 562-3

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Balanced leaders need escape, solitude, relaxation & old friends.
Jefferson was writing from Poplar Forest, his second home, on the outskirts of what is now Lynchburg, VA, southwest of Charlottesville and Monticello. He inherited the plantation as part of his father-in-law’s estate in the 1770’s and visited there regularly. He began building this octagon-shaped dwelling in 1806. He kept there a second library that grew to be about 1,000 books. Poplar Forest was a get-away from the constant stream of guests, invited and otherwise, at Monticello.
Not only could he read and think in solitude at Poplar Forest , he could catch up on correspondence with old acquaintances. (He was several letters behind in returning the favor to this absent friend.) Benjamin Rush was a co-signer of the Declaration of Independence and a noted Philadelphia physician. Rush provisioned Meriwether Lewis with training and medicines for his epic journey west. He also pioneered more humane treatment of the mentally ill. While Jefferson strongly disagreed with Rush’s fondness for blood-letting as a medical treatment, they maintained a close friendship. Rush was instrumental in facilitating the repair of the broken friendship between Jefferson and John Adams.

On a personal note, I first visited Poplar Forest in June 1993 as the last stop on our family’s “Jefferson Tour” of Virginia. PF was closed because a fierce storm had raked the state a day or two before. Not to be denied, I left wife and four young daughters with the car, climbed over the locked gate, and hiked the long, winding driveway back to the house. I climbed over downed trees and power lines along the way. The property had been purchased for preservation nine years before, but the house looked almost ready to fall in. I returned in 2003, amazed to see how wonderfully it had been restored it. Much more work has happened since.
On the shelf above my desk rests an eight inch chunk of poplar wood, one of many scraps blown from the large poplar trees in Mr. Jefferson’s yard that day in 1993. Somewhere else in my office (where?) hides a fallen bird’s nest from the same yard.
Few people know about Poplar Forest. If your travels take you near Lynchburg, I hope you’ll go see it. Tell them President Jefferson sent you.

Jefferson’s thoughts on relaxation will relax your audience.
Invite him to speak. 573-657-2739


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